A six-run eighth inning and four Columbia errors spoiled what had otherwise been a strong pitching performance by junior Gabe Gambardella, and sent the Lions to a heartbreaking 8-5 loss against the St. John's Red Storm Wednesday night in Queens.
Columbia (13-13, 3-1 Ivy) had been leading for the better part of game, powered, in part, by a two-run homer in the second by junior designated hitter Nick Solaro, scoring senior catcher Derek Johnson from first base.
Gambardella (0-3) had gone into the bottom of the eighth holding to a 5-2 lead, when the Red Storm's bats started thundering. St. John's third baseman Jason Kane led off the inning by lofting an easy fly ball to left field. Junior Mark DiGesu, who had pinch hit for starter Peter Korbel in the seventh, camped under it, but it fell to the ground for an error.
Gambardella would proceed to load the bases, walking the next two batters in the order. Red Storm pinch hitter Jeremy Winter then reached base on catcher's interference by junior Joe Catsam, who had replaced Johnson behind the plate in the seventh, to let in an unearned run.
"I think Gabe was a little shaken up by the leadoff error, because here, he thought, there should have been one out," Head Coach Mikio Aoki said. "And then our first catcher's interference of the season couldn't have come at a worse time."
Indeed, the runs kept on coming after that. A subsequent sacrifice fly and a single let in two more of the unearned baserunners. Although Gambardella retired the next two men at the plate, he was lifted from the game after 7 2/3 innings for first-year Brendan Quinn, when another unearned run scored on a misfire by junior second baseman Billy Hess. But Quinn ran into trouble himself. He let up a single to St. John's shortstop Mike Rozema, and a 2 RBI triple to hot-hitting centerfielder Charlie Bilezikjian, who went 3 for 4 against Columbia pitching.
In the end, of the eight runs St. John's scored in the game, five were unearned.
"We played well and put forth a great effort; we just didn't execute as well as we should have or when we could," Aoki said.
Boiling over their mistakes, Columbia still attempted a rally in the top of the ninth against reliever Mike Tamulionis. With two outs, walks to Hess and Catsam sandwiched an error by Kane that allowed senior centerfielder Matt Buckmiller to reach first. But all was in vain; Solaro popped a foul ball to first base, and the game ended with three runners stranded.
Reliever Keith Hansen (1-0), who had pitched the top of the eighth, picked up the win for St. John's, and Tamulionis recorded his second save of the season. Gambardella, despite seven strikeouts, took the loss.
The defeat marks the sixth straight contest in which the the Lions have been bested by the Red Storm (15-14).
"I don't think [our] history [with St. John's] plays a part in a game like this at all," Aoki said. "You go into every game with the hope you can win, though baseball's a somewhat different sport from, say, football, which one team can just dominate the entire season. In baseball you can expect to drop a few here and there. And we had St. John's beat until we fell apart in the eighth."
Columbia had first taken the lead in the top of the third. Sophomore Jeff Huizinga, who had started the game at third base, singled off St. John's starter Tom Klemm to lead off the inning. An error by Rozema, followed by a walk moved him over two bases, and he scored on a line-out sacrifice fly by Johnson.
Columbia also had added some insurance with a two-run sixth inning, which knocked Klemm out of the game. A pair of singles by Solaro and Korbel, followed by a hit batsman loaded the bases. Senior first baseman Keith Palmieri drove in Solaro on a fielder's choice, and another miscue by Rozema would bring around Korbel.
The Light Blue embarks on a four-game road trip this weekend, with doubleheaders at Harvard and Dartmouth, to wrap up their non-division Ivy League competition.